In our last lesson, we covered Romans 10:14 – 11:10. Basically, we learned God’s plan to create faith in man, and Paul showed that though God had given up on the nation of Israel, He didn’t give up on ever individual Jew, and Paul was a great example of this. Also, Paul answered the question why that only a remnant of the Jews would find salvation.
Next, Paul will talk about the Jew’s rejection of God’s new plan through Christ and how the Gentiles embraced this new plan.
Romans 11:11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! 13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
This section of Scripture can be a bit challenging to understand. So, let’s break it down and do our best to understand what is being said. Notice verse 11 again:
Romans 11:11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.
As I have pointed out in early lessons, Paul talks about physical Israel and spiritual Israel. Of course, every Christian, whether Jew or Gentile, is part of spiritual Israel. Since Paul has pointed out two Israels before, some conclude that our first pronoun “they” in verse 11 refers to physical Israel, and the second one refers to spiritual Israel. So, they would paraphrase our verse like this:
Did fleshly Israel then stumble so completely as to involve even the spiritual Israel also in their fall? God forbid. Just the opposite happened, because their fall has greatly advanced the conversion of Gentiles, thus provoking the old Israel to increased acts of violence against the faith, through their jealousy. (Coffman Commentary).
I don’t have problem with this view, but to me, I see Paul
continuing his idea that even though the Jewish nation had fallen out of favor
with God, it wasn’t something permanent. It other words, it isn’t the idea of
once lost, always lost. Notice how the NIV words our text:
NIV Romans 11:11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?
Also, notice the CEB
CEB Romans 11:11 So I'm asking you: They haven't stumbled so that they've fallen permanently, have they?
These versions capture exactly what I am saying. The answer to the question is:
Romans 11:11 Certainly not!
If you are still alive, you have the opportunity to turn to God, obey His gospel, and be saved. Notice the last part of our verse from the CEB
Romans 11:11 But salvation has come to the Gentiles by their failure, in order to make Israel jealous.
Physical Israel had their time, but they were rebellious, and their time was limited. A new covenant was made through Jesus, in which God turned His back on the corrupt Jewish nation and brought forth salvation for everyone, which opened the door for Gentiles. Paul has made this clear throughout his letter that just because you are part of physical Israel doesn’t mean you are saved or in favor with God.
However, once the rebellious Jews see how the Gentiles can be right with God, and they see all the blessing they are receiving, then hopefully this will make these stubborn Jews jealous or we could zealous for what these Gentiles have, which brings us to our next verse:
12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!
This can be a bit confusing, but hopefully it will make perfect sense when I explain it. Paul says, Now if their, that is the physical Israel’s, fall brings riches to the world, which would include the Gentiles, then how much more riches could be had for the Jews who choose to be saved through God’s plan. The riches being referred to are spiritual riches.
When you read about the Jewish leaders, starting at Pentecost, you will see why the gospel was spread into other areas so quickly. The rebellious Jews were constantly persecuting anyone who became a Christians or proclaimed the beautiful message of Christ. They even killed Christians trying to keep them quiet, which caused them to scatter into new areas to preach the truth. Thought some Jews were obeying, the Gentiles were much more receptive of God’s new covenant.
Next Paul writes:
13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
Starting with verse 13, to the end of the chapter, Paul is talking to the Gentiles now, but his message would also be for the Jews. Paul is letting the Gentiles know that he is speaking to them. Though Paul is a Jew, loves his fellow men, and would love for them to be saved (Rom. 10:1), he is proud to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Gal. 2:7).
As he ministers to the Gentiles, he hopes that his fellow Jews will be provoked to jealousy to the point that they will accept the good news of Jesus and be saved. Some people think that all Jews will be saved, but as we see in verse 14, Paul knew the Jews were lost and would remain lost unless the obeyed the Gospel like many Gentiles were doing.
In verse 15, Paul understands that if the Jewish nation being cast away made it possible for those of the world to reconciled to God when they obey the Gospel, the same honor is available to the Jew who is willing to obey, which means being made alive from the dead. Paul is not talking about a physical resurrection or something that happens at the end of time. He is talking about a spiritual resurrection that happens when we obey the gospel and are buried with Christ in baptism (Rom. 6). At the point of baptism, we die with Christ and are raised up a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). Every person who has ever become a Christians, as taught in the N.T., has experienced this spiritual resurrection.
Next Paul says:
16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
I like what Mr. Coffman writes about our verse, which includes an explanation to those who try and abuse this text.
And if the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump: and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
Here are two simple parallel metaphors, both meaning exactly the same things, which is, that since God had so graciously accepted the first Jewish converts, all Jews who would accept the Lord would likewise be accepted.
Firstfruit ... refers to Numbers 15:20, in which passage the Jews were instructed to "offer up a cake" of their dough to the Lord when they first prepared bread from the new harvest. After the sacrifice of that first symbolical portion of it, the remainder, or lump, was considered to be ready for general use.
This illustration, by use of twin metaphors, is actually an appeal to the axiomatic truth that the whole partakes of the nature of its parts. Despite the obvious simplicity of this homely truth, it is true that few passages have been loaded down with more fanciful interpretations than has this, or made to serve more foreign ends.
Barrett agreed that the firstfruit and the root in this verse "refer to Jewish Christians."
It should be particularly noted that nothing is said in this verse about the "whole lump" being holy, nor "all the branches" being holy. Lenski noted this omission thus:
Paul does not write "the WHOLE lump ... ALL the branches," which he might have done but avoided doing, so as not to shift the emphasis and thus afford an occasion of misunderstanding.
To construe this verse, therefore, as a support of the theory that the whole Jewish nation, now morally dead, and sentenced to perpetual hardening, will some day accept Christianity, goes extravagantly beyond anything the verse says. (Coffman Commentary, Romans).
So. the basic message is that while the Jewish nation became corrupt and fell out of favor with God, the Jews can turn from their sins and embrace the new covenant that came through Jesus, just as around 3000 Jews did on the Day of Pentecost. Even the Jews today can become holy or right with God if they will embrace God’s plan through Jesus.
In our next section of Scripture, Paul will once again show that the Jews have not been rejected forever, and he is going teach Gentiles that they have no reason to feel superior to the Jews for accepting the gospel.
Romans 11:17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in." 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
Paul’s illustration would have more meaning to the first century people since they dealt with Olive trees. There were cultivated ones that were used, which produced bigger and better olives, but there were also wild ones that grew. These wild ones usually grew bigger, but they didn’t make as much olives and they were smaller. Sometimes, they would graft a cultivated limb to a wild tree, but it was rare for them to ever graft in a wild branch into a cultivated tree.
However, this was the illustration Paul chose to use. The cultivated olive branches represent the Jews and it roots refer to the Patriarchs and the promises that were made to them. Remember Jesus said that “salvation in of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22). In other words. God’s plan to save man through Christ came through the Jews. We learn that the wild olive branches refer to Gentiles.
In verse 17, some Jewish branches were broken off, and some Gentile branches were grafted into the cultivated olive tree, and they get reap the benefits of being part of this cultivated tree, which comes from the root. Verse 20 tells us that the reason these Jewish branches were broken off was because of their unbelief. So, they were not simply broken off to make room for the Gentile branches. We learn from that same verse that these Gentiles branches could be grafted in because of their faith. When they obeyed the gospel, they were grafted in just as every Christian is.
However, these Gentile had not right to boast or to think that they were better than these Jews because they are just branches that have been grafted into a tree whose roots go all the way back to Abraham in which God made His promises. While it was true that Jewish branches were broken off it was only because of their unbelief. He wants the Gentiles to know that the only reason they were grafted in was because of their obedient faith not because they were better than the Jews. Notice the warning he gives the Gentiles again:
Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.
They have no room to be haughty and in our next chapter Paul will emphasize that no Christian should think too highly of himself (Rom. 12:3). Instead they are to fear because being grafted into the cultivated tree is not a guarantee they will remain grafted in because if God did not spare the natural, that is the Jewish branches when they didn’t believe, then He may not keep the Gentile grafted if he wavers in his faith as the some of the Jews did.
Many want to focus on the goodness of God. They like that part, but we must never forget that there is severity with God. Those who unbelieving Jews who were cut off, they will face the severity of God, but those who are faithful, like these grafted in Gentiles will receive the goodness of God if (Please notice this conditional word) if you continue in His goodness because if you don’t remain faithful then you will be cut off. It would be hard to ignore the clear teaching that just because you obey the gospel and get saved it doesn’t mean you remained saved no matter what happens next because Paul has just clearly stated that if you don’t continue to be faithful that you will be cut off and face the severity of God. This little illustration destroys the false doctrine once saved always saved all by itself.
Notice the last section of verses again:
23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
These are comforting words to Paul’s nation because it’s letting them know that it’s not too late for them even though they have been cut off. If they will turn from their unbelief and will obey the gospel they can be grafted back in. Some will complain about the illustration and say it doesn’t make sense because once a branch is cut off it withers and dies within a few days, but people are missing the point that this is just an illustration. They are also missing the point that God is the one who is doing the grafting. He certainly has the power to bring that which is dead or dying back to life and allow it to be grafted back in. Just as God can take wild branch and allow it to be grafted in and thrive, He can take a natural branch and easily graft it back in from the tree it came from.
Again, this points out the simple truth that God has not abandoned the Jews because they can still be saved if they obey the gospel and remain faithful. Paul is going to continue to point this fact out as we continue in our next section.
Romans 11:25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins." 28 Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
This section of Scripture is considered one of the most difficult sections in Romans. Some even say it’s the most difficult in the New Testament. There have been many views created from what Paul says here including the premillennialists’ view that just before Jesus comes to the earth that all Jews will believe in Jesus and be saved. They also say that all Jews will be resurrected and begin to evangelize. Of course, this all has to do with the alleged 1000-year reign of Christ on earth, which is also a false doctrine created from a vague verse from the Book of Revelation. They think the Jews will final fulfil prophecy of the land promise given to Abraham, and they will rebuild the temple. However, the problem with this is the land promise was fulfilled during Joshua’s day (Jos. 21:43-5; 1 Kgs. 4:21). This can also be proven from Deut. 19:7-9, which says that three more refuge cities are to be built once the land promise is fulfilled and we find those three cities were added in Jos. 20:7-9.
There are certainly some things in the section of Scripture that no one can be dogmatic about, but when we have vague phases in verses like these, we should never try and create an entire doctrine from what we think it might be saying. Any way we interpret challenging verses like these must agree with the rest of the Bible and not contradict it. When people don’t follow this simple rule is how many false doctrines come about.
Some like to isolate this section out of its context, but the word for in verse 25 lets us know that what he is saying is further explanation of what he just said. Paul is talking to the Gentiles, he wants them to understand this mystery that he just explained in the previous verses of how the Gentiles are being saved through an obedient faith, which in turn is being used to make the Jews jealous of what they have been given so that the Jews may also turn to God.
Paul said the, “blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” The fact that he said in part shows that not all of Israel was blind because we know a remnant of the Jews were not blind to the truth about Jesus, and they accepted it. I cannot tell you specifically what it means when it says, “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” There are many thoughts on what this means, but we know for sure that its referring to Gentiles being converted. Some view this as simply referring to Gentiles having the gospel proclaimed to them. Others view it as saying that if refers to the gospel being proclaimed to the whole world. Some also think this had its fulfilment in A.D. 70 in which the Jerusalem was destroyed, which caused the Jews to stop persecuting the Gentiles and open their eyes to the fact that God was not interested in their temple worship or their practicing of the Law of Moses. However you decide to view this phrase, we know that once the Word of God was spread across the world and many Gentiles accepted and benefited from being grafted in, it would certainly serve as an example to the blinded Jew who had been cutoff and would hopefully provoke them to want to be grafted back in with God’s plan.
This next section also had been misunderstood by many.
26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins."
Here is where some have concluded that before Jesus returns that God will cause all the Jews to believe and be saved. However, if we have God making all Jews believe and being saved, then free will is gone and God would be showing partiality, which He does not. This would also take away from the idea that only a few will be saved (Mt. 7:13-14).
How can we make sense of this? Well, we consider the context and what Paul has been preaching to his fellow Jews. We know he has been saying that they cannot be saved just because of their heritage, so we know he is not going to contradict himself after teaching this repeatedly to say, “just forget everything I told you because you are going to be saved in the end just for being a Jew.” Do you see how this makes no sense?
However, when we think about how Paul keeps telling his Jewish brethren that they must be saved through Jesus, just as the Gentiles have, then they too can be saved. So, Paul is basically saying that when the Jews see what these Gentiles have in Christ, and they obey the gospel, then all Israel has the opportunity to be saved in the same way.
To further show that this section of Scripture is not reveling some mystery that is to happen when Jesus returns, Paul says "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins."
This a quote from Isaiah, and some want to make this point to Jesus’ second coming, but it’s referring to Jesus’ first coming. Please note the following reasons this is not referring to the second coming.
1. As John R.W. Stott pointed out, “This [passage] was, in Isaiah’s original, reference to Christ first coming.”
2. One purpose of Christ’s first coming was to try to “remove ungodliness from Jacob [Israel]” (see Mt. 15:24), to “take away their sins”- that is, to save the lost (Lk. 19:10). When Jesus comes the second time, it will not be to take away sin, but to judge (Mt. 25:31-33).
3. It would be difficult to isolate Romans 11:26b, 27 from Jeremiah’s promise of “a new covenant,” but that new covenant (the New Testament of Jesus) has already been established (Heb. 8:8-13). We conclude, therefore, that Romans 11:26b, 27 has to do with Jesus first coming – when He “became flesh” (Jn. 1:14) – not to His second coming.
The point of the quotation in verse 26 and 27 was to show that prophets had foretold that the Deliverer (Christ) would come to save Israel (bring them back to God’s plans and purpose). This would occur as Jews were moved to jealousy by God’s acceptance of Gentiles. God had (and has) a plan to save Jews, a plan centered in Jesus. (Truth for Today commentary, Romans, p. 223).
Paul continues his thought in:
28 Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
Many of the Jews were enemies of the gospel. Some of them of them had no problem doing their part to put Jesus on the cross. As Paul pointed out, many times their rejection of the Messiah led to the Gentiles hearing the gospel and accepting it. While the Jews were enemies of the gospel, they are still considered beloved because God chose their people through whom all the promises of Christ came through.
God never failed to keep His promise to Abraham, but He will not force the Jews to accept His mercy and grace. The Gentiles had been disobedient to God, but they overcame their disobedience, but many of these Jews became and remained disobedient. However, even these rebellious Jews could taste the mercy and grace of God if they would choose to turn to God as these Gentiles did.
Some will try and use verse 32 to teach universal salvation because they see this as God showing mercy to the disobedient and will save them all. I agree with Stott who wrote,
On this verse some have built their universalistic dreams. And, isolated from its context in Romans, it could be understood to promise universal salvation in the end. But Romans will not allow this interpretation, since in it Paul declares that there is to be a ‘day of God’s wrath’ (2:5), and distress’ (2:8f.). (Truth for Today commentary, Romans, p. 227).
Paul is just saying in verse 32 that God wants to show mercy to us all, but we know that He will not save everyone, but He will save anyone who will turn to Him with an obedient faith.
Our last few verses are called a doxology about the mercy of God.
Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! 34 "For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" 35 "Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?" 36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
What a beautiful way to end this difficult section of Romans 9-11. Paul is praising God for His great wisdom and knowledge. Not only did He create us, He put a marvelous plan together that slowly came together over thousands of years to bring us to Jesus, the Savior of all. We can never know the mind of God and all His ways because they are past finding out (Isa. 55:8-9). God has never required an advisor on what He is supposed to do. No one has given God anything that would cause Him to owe us something in return (Job. 41:11). Instead, everything that exists and anything that we could offer to God came through Him which is why He deserves all praise and honor forever.